Animal Memorials

For as long as I can remember, I have stopped to lift dead animals from roads. I cannot bear to leave them; the endless rush of cars, further assaulting their bodies, feels too cruel.

I was inspired by the naturalist author, Barry Lopez, and his book, Apologia. Ona journey across North America, Lopez stops for countless animals, removing their bodies from the asphalt, lamenting the brutalities of the modern world.

I began creating memorials, not only for animals killed on roads but also for the passed lives I’d meet on trails, and even in my own backyard. I look for soft, quiet places for their bodies to rest, and I adorn them with flowers, branches, seeds, weeds, and grasses. My intention is to honor the individual life; to acknowledge the existence they lived and lost. Too often dead animals are treated as objects, identified as “roadkill.” But they are beings. They have feelings and memories, fears and follies, journeys we may never know.

I photograph not to sensationalize, but rather to normalize and to ask: Why do we look away? Are we afraid of our own mortality? Do we hold nonhuman beings as Other, as irrelevant? Why are we sensitive to human death yet impervious to the deaths of others? Unless we work in the realms of medicine, hospice, or mortuary, many of us are sheltered from death, resistant to the idea. Yet death surrounds us in circles--decay giving way to growth, deceased bodies sustaining and nourishing vital ones. I think about cycles, the giving and taking, the reciprocity, how life ebbs into death, and then spirals back, transformed and new.

Since I began sharing the memorials, I have learned how so many others have also been honoring animals in under-the-tree memorials. I have found kindred spirits. I hope my images nudge an acceptance of death as part of life, and that we may begin to see more clearly how similar we are to those we overlook. Their deaths deserve to be honored and seen, as do our own.

“I’m sorry” is what I say to each one. I say it for all of us, for our cruelties and harms, intentional or not, our indifferences. My hope is that we may see, that we may care, and that we may even dare to look closely and feel deeply and be reminded of the bonds we share. My hope is that in remembering we may heal divisions, mend fractures, blend ourselves again, us with them.

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Los Defensores

The Amazon Rainforest is the most important land ecosystem in mitigating the effects of climate change. Yet, the remote landscape is difficult to regulate, leaving this ecosystem vulnerable to deforestation caused by illegal gold mining. Through my partnership with filmmaker Sarah Lupton, I have teamed up with a grassroots organization in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, led by 2016 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award winner Victor Zambrano.

The Defenders is a storytelling project utilizing film and digital media to create an immersive experience to educate global audiences and drive meaningful action. Our work is supported by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and the Center of Conflict & Development at Texas A&M University, and directly benefits the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA).

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Every year in March, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world—filmmakers, artists, designers, musicians, politicians, athletes, chefs, scholars, influencers, writers, poets, activists, and wizards—gather in downtown Austin, Texas, to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival. It’s 10 days of innovation, synergy, convergence, inspiration, exhilaration, madness, exhaustion, and joyful mayhem. It’s incredible. My favorite time of year. I’ve been a member of the official SXSW Photography Crew for 10 years.

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Anthropology is my profession, but photography is maybe my biggest passion. I love photographing wildlife and dogs (especially Matilda) the most. But everything through my lens gives me joy—friends, concerts, events, sunrises, trees, and more. For me, photography is a kind of meditation, a way to be present, to focus, and to see, really see.

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matilda and the flowers

Matilda came to me as a puppy when she was 6-7 months old. I found her hiding under my house in rural Texas. She was extremely shy, and yet somehow, for some reason, already so attentive to me. We quickly became best friends. Over the past 16 years, she has lived so joyfully and adventurously. She's journeyed across five deserts on two continents, crossed paths with elephants and zebras in Botswana, coyotes and moose in Colorado, and armadillos and bobcats in her own backyard in Texas. She's played in the surf of three seas, hiked to alpine lakes in the Rocky Mountains, crossed the Rio Grande, and kayaked the green rivers of the Hill Country. She's climbed boulders in Joshua Tree, run the beaches of Big Sur, played among the ancient giants of Sequoia, and perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon.For all her travels, Matilda loves the grasslands of the Texas Hill Country, especially in the spring when the fields are adorned with bluebonnets and all the wildflowers of the rainbow. In 2016, we started a series on the Facebook page, Dogspotting Society, called "Matilda and Flowers," honoring her love affair with the smells and soft warmth of the sunlight in spring. We started creating calendars, with all proceeds donated to our favorite shelter in Texas, Austin Pets Alive! Here is a link to her 2021 calendar:

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poppy the puppy

Poppy was born in a cattle post in Botswana. When she was still a pup, she suffered an injury and lost her ability to walk. That didn’t slow her. With all the determined energy in the world, she dragged her way into our research camp. She was so vulnerable, but she somehow evaded the lions, hyenas, and other dangers. Her smiling eyes were impossible to resist. We named her Poppy and made a plan to help. That plan began with a 12-hour journey on dirt roads past elephant herds just to get her to a vet. Ultimately it led her to the U.S. and into the hearts and home of a family who welcomed her with open arms. Now she runs like the wind with a race cart in the wilds of Washington, DC, and she lives with her with her pup sister, Molly, three kitties, and her humans. Poppy’s story was featured in People, The Dodo, BoredPanda, Yahoo News, and the nightly news in South Africa. She gained thousands of devoted followers from every continent. She’s just a pup. Just a paralyzed pup with the spirit of a tornado. But she hit a nerve, and she’s given us all so much joy.